Stand up for Your Rights as a Shift Worker

Do these workplace tales seem familiar?

You've just completed an eight-hour shift in the distribution center, where you move items to and from the loading area under strict time pressure. Your replacement hasn't arrived. Your supervisor is fuming over the negligence of the late employee; he's inviting you to feel angry as well, since you can't leave until your replacement shows. During his angry rant, he fails to mention that legally you can leave. And if you choose to stay, the law states that you must be paid for your time.

In another situation, you're a hostess in a busy restaurant. As you step away for your lunch break, your boss glides past and taps you on the shoulder. "We're getting slammed," she says. "Unfortunately, you can't take a lunch today."

In a third setting, you work on a family-run dairy farm, completing labor that often takes place at odd hours or extends beyond the end of a predictable shift. When you open your paycheck on a Friday afternoon, you notice that you haven't been paid for some of the double shifts you worked last week. "Don't worry about that," says your boss. "We'll make it up to you later, or let you leave early during the next few weeks. Or whatever. You can trust us."

What's wrong with these scenarios?

Shift workers don't always recognize when their employers are overstepping legal boundaries. And in some cases, supervisors themselves don't actually recognize these rules (and they may also be facing pressure from company managers). As a shift employee, it's important to understand your legal rights and push back when these rights are infringed upon. Take responsibility for your time and paycheck; don't wait for your employer to do this for you. Here are four of the most commonly misunderstood federal laws that protect shift workers.  

Minimum wage

As of 2009, the federal minimum wage in the US is $7.25 per hour. Individual states offer minimum wage protections as well; when the two minimums differ, the higher number prevails. This means that under no circumstances should you be making less than $7.25 (with the exception of restaurant servers who earn tips). If you believe your wage falls below your state minimum, conduct research to find out.  


Employees who are non-overtime-exempt must receive overtime pay for every hour they work in excess of 40 hours per week. Overtime pay should amount to 1.5 times the normal rate (or more). If you're over 16, there's no legal limit to the number of hours you can work each week. You must be paid time and a half for every hour in excess of 40, however.

Record keeping

Your employers are legally obligated to keep accurate time and pay records. These records should account for all of the time you spend either onsite or on duty. This means, your employers have no excuse to pay you inaccurately for your time.

Youth employment

Child labor laws cover a wide array of categories and are designed with the broad purpose of protecting minors from any form of exploitation that might put their health, education, or financial well-being in jeopardy. If your child is seeking work, know that the following is prohibited for minors: using power-driven woodworking machines, mining (coal or otherwise), roofing, trenching, handling explosives, driving a motor vehicle, manufacturing brick, and utilizing power-driven bakery and meat-processing machines. Additionally, many power tools are off-limits to minors as well. If your child's employer insists that minor employees engage in these practices, understand that that is illegal.

Protect yourself and hold your employer responsible for any legal violations that may put you in harm's way. If you stand your ground and your employer doesn't comply, take legal action if you can, and meanwhile, start looking for to a new position. Visit MyPerfectResume and review the job search tools on the site as you plan your next move.  

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MyPerfectResume Staff Writer

MyPerfectResume Staff Writer

At MyPerfectResume, we are passionate about two things: sharing our knowledge about the workforce and providing exceptional tools to help jobseekers get ahead. Thanks to our well-rounded assemblage of experts, we offer industry-specific resume and cover letter writing tips and career advice for almost every job. MyPerfectResume culls detailed advice…

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